Tag Archives: Common


Today I was sitting listening to my $1 copy of Going Steady reading Steady B’s Wikipedia wondering how he’s serving life without parole for a murder he was only the getaway driver for when I heard a groovy little guitar lick that I recognized from my distant past.

Steady B – Anyway U Want It

It took me way too long to put it together, but eventually it came to me.  How could I forget!

The Notorious B.I.G. – Just Playin’ (Dreams)

I think it didn’t come immediately to mind because “Dreams” wasn’t an album cut and back in the day when I was listening to a lot of Biggie I wasn’t venturing too far outside of official album material, even from artists I really loved.  Despite this misguided tendency, I still acquired this single on wax at some point, probably as an add-on to save money on shipping for some other eBay record purchase, so it was a song I only heard when I played it out someplace, unlike the hours spent on Ready to Die and Life After Death.

Now you don’t have to be a prodigy-level sample spotter to guess that the original is probably some “Hot Pants“-era James Brown track, and you’d be right, but don’t stop the search there!  Dig a little deeper into those memory banks and and recall the man who beat both of these dudes to the “Blues and Pants” flip, and arguably out-raps them as well.

Geto Boys – Scarface

For a bonus, in case you’ve become hypnotized by 12 minutes of the same one-bar loop and are now having withdrawals, check out “Announcement“.  The video had me flashing back to the now thoroughly creepy Picture Pages in a big way, and with all the recent discussion of rap ghostwriting I can’t help but wonder if a certain Shawn Carter might have played a role in Pharrell’s verse… and if so, why didn’t Common do us all a favor and follow suit?

Common – Announcement (feat. Pharrell)

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This one takes me all the way back to my first bakery job at Cafe Plaid in Norman, Oklahoma.  Back then, the bakery was in a completely separate building from where the food was actually served, so I got to hang out by myself all morning baking bread and cookies for the inevitable lunch mob, blasting whatever music I wanted through this crappy borrowed boombox someone had left in the bakery years ago.  This was before I had any kind of mp3 player so I was burning CDs of albums and bringing them to work, so a pretty small number of albums got some really heavy rotation in those couple years and there are a few albums that to this day still feel like the soundtrack to those way too early mornings back in 2006/07.  One of those briefly but heavily used discs was the album this Method Man track came from that contains the line that gets this whole journey started.

Method Man – Is It Me?

The line I’m talking about comes right around the 2:00 mark, and I remember it distinctly being one of my favorite lines from the track, even before I knew anything about its history.

My flow’s no holds barred, Holy Jihad
It’s the head nigga in charge, Meth, back on the job
Like back in the days, back when the game was hard
And when they reminisced over Wu, my God

It’s one of those lines that perfectly punctuates the end of a verse and you just barely have enough time to grin and appreciate it before the hook drops back in.  For a while it was just one of the hundreds of memorable lines from rap songs I’d had stored away in my brain, but then Kanye‘s Graduation album came out, and the end of that third verse (around 3:15) made me do a double take.

Kanye West – Can’t Tell Me Nothin’

I never fully accepted the idea that Kanye had borrowed the line from that Method Man track, it just didn’t quite seem like something he’d do.  But I never took the time to explore the issue deeply until yesterday when I heard Common drop the exact same line in this song!

Common – I Want You

Even though Common and Kanye have worked together plenty, it still didn’t feel like the kind of line that Common would have lifted from Kanye after he lifted it from Method Man, I knew there had to be a single source they were all drawing from.  Now that I’ve taken the time to root out the source of this beautiful turn of phrase, I feel foolish that I never took the time before; it’s truly one of the most disarmingly sincere, heartfelt rap songs I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)

Some of you may be familiar with this track from that weird controversy that cropped up this past May.  If you’re lucky, you just know it because of its beauty.

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People love to pretend like there are these huge divisions between different artists and subgenres of various art forms, but closer examination almost always reveals that it is the fans of these artists and subgenres that are creating these divisions, not the artists themselves.  The artists do sometimes make certain moves to perpetuate these divisions, but at the end of the day there is usually an acquiescence to an “alright, we’re all artists here, we’re not that different” mentality.

Common might be the #1 dude on the list of dudes perpetuating division between big camps in hip-hop.  One of his most famous and beloved songs (by his fans) is “I Used To Love H.E.R.“, where “H.E.R.” stands for “Hearing Every Rhyme“.  It’s an allegory of his feelings about the history of the hip-hop scene told as a love story with a fictional woman.  In the beginning she “had so much soul”, she wasn’t “about the money”, she had nothing to do with all the stuff that people who listen to “conscious rap” think shouldn’t be talked about.  Then later when she started hangin’ with the “boys in the hood”, Common tolerates it for a while, admitting that she is getting “more well-rounded” and still has faith in her future.  Eventually, when she starts only talking about selling drugs and being violent, Common seems to give up on her as a lost cause.  This was back in 1994, and while a lot has changed about rap music, a lot has stayed painfully the same.  Common is still one of the main rappers cited by those who’d like to see all MCs rapping about uplifting the downtrodden and fighting the power, and this derision and disappointment with rappers who have violent lyrics or shallow content is as pervasive today as ever in many circles.

Common – I Used To Love H.E.R.

I think the fact that Common chose this metaphor for telling the history of hip-hop is very telling about his and many of his fans’ mentality about what rap is.  To them, hip-hop is this abstract notion, a Platonic ideal, a single concept that must be preserved and and controlled.  The main issue I take with this perception, besides the fact that it completely ignores the fact that hip-hop was not originally conceived of in this way at all, is that rap actually is just a vehicle for a huge spectrum of people to express themselves and tell their stories about the situations they’ve experienced.  Hip-hop as an object does not exist, there are only the people who make hip-hop, and each person that makes it gets to redefine what it is with every song.  If your experience compels you to rap about social and political issues, then you can still do that.  If your experience compels you to rap about murder and crime, then you can do that too.  If your experience tells you to rap about sex and money, then that’s also an option.  If your experience tells you to rap about everyday life and the struggles of day to day humanity, knock yourself out.  The fact that someone else is rapping about different things than you does not prevent you from rapping about what you want to rap about.  When “gangsta rap” came on the scene, “socially conscious” rap did not cease to exist (I use quotation marks because both of these terms are absurdly simplistic and unfair to all genres of rap).  There are still new artists in that subgenre, and there always will be as long as rap exists.

It seems, however, that Common has perhaps loosened his uptight viewpoints on what legitimate rap can be.  In a recent interview, Common said this about meeting Waka Flocka, who is arguably the best possible example of everything a die-hard evangelistic Common fan hates about rap.

I love that he came out and said what he felt ’cause, I mean, who are we to judge what that meant? We ain’t the gatekeepers of hip-hop. We love the music. We love the culture. But, I mean, that’s his experience and that’s what he felt. And it’s somethin’ about him that … he got a soul to him that’s like, that I feel I see why people respond to his music.

He also makes a point very much like the point I tried to make back in this post, interestingly.

That’s what real is, when you talk about real. You want the truth, people to come out and just speak they mind. The things that, you know, some people are embarrassed to say, they say. I respect those guys and artists and women the most, the people that just speak they mind.

I’d really love for every fan of what they would arrogantly call “real hip-hop” to read those quotes and really take in what Common is implying here.  Gone is the perception of hip-hop as a pristine, immaculate, abstract concept that can be sullied by anything not conforming to its rigid guidelines.  In its place is a much more human and humane understanding that we’re all just people in this world going through different shit.  We’re all different, we all have different places we come from, and we’ve all got something to say.  Hip-hop is just one way to say things.  And as I’ve argued before, one of the most important roles of any artist is to say those things that most people are too afraid to say out loud, so that when people think those forbidden thoughts, they can at least know there’s somebody else that feels that way too.  It would be nice if that idea was just common sense.

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I just wanna say right off the bat that Amber hooked me up with every step of this journey, I did some very sparse research to hook it all together, but the real work was all done for me.  So  hats off to her for this, it’s a good one.

It started with her gettin’ curious about this Monica jam from back in ’95, when she was only 14 years old!

Monica – Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)

She did some lookin’ around and found out that it used some elements from a couple songs, one a little more recent than the other.

LL Cool J – Back Seat

The Detroit Emeralds – You’re Getting A Little Too Smart

Now if you listen close to the drum beat in that Detroit Emeralds song, you might just recognize it from more than a couple other tunes from around that same time as the Monica song.

Raekwon – Incarcerated Scarfaces

Common – The Light

The Light” isn’t the only place Dilla used that drum beat in his production, it’s in this Slum Village track as well.

Slum Village – Climax

Just like that Minnie Ripperton eye-opener from a little while back, this is another good example of a bunch of songs that I’ve listened to bunches of times but somehow I never put together that they shared some common ancestry until I heard the song that they were all pulled from.  It’s especially surprising that I never noticed this because “The Light” has probably one of my favorite drum loops of all time, it just totally takes me over the second it starts.  But I needed somebody to walk me through realizing that all these other songs that I listen to all the time use those same drums.  Thanks for the illumination, as always, Amber.

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You don’t have to listen to much rap to hear about a billion references to Scarface, Goodfellas, and movies of that type, but this Vibe article just came out asking what non-gangster movies they were really into, and it had some kinda interesting stuff in it.  I do have a couple qualms with some of how it was treated; many rappers still chose pretty gangster/crime movie titles (Juice, Mean Streets, New Jack City, etc.) and for an article that’s supposed to be interesting because it surprises you with “soft” movies being appreciated by people with very “hard” personas, they asked a fair amount of rappers who weren’t that “hard” to begin with: Common, Q-Tip, etc.  But there still were some interesting choices, Big K.R.I.T. chose There Will Be Blood, and for a pretty interesting reason, and my favorite was Sean Price, who chose Good Will Hunting.

I was real smart in school. I used to be really kind of a nerd almost when I was young, like grade school. I was in the top of my class always and I was into video games. But then by the time I was fourteen I was selling crack. That’s why I relate to that movie. A lot of smart poor kids who never get a chance because of their wild upbringing.

I think this is the kind of stuff that article was fishing for, and I really like that answer a lot.  I’ve always liked that movie too but I never thought about the part of me liking rap being at all related to the part of me liking Good Will Hunting, that’s pretty interesting to me.  But he brings up a really good point and it’s cool that he could relate to a character like that.

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